Following the simple question as to where water goes when it rains leads to one of the most exciting frontiers in earth science: the critical zone—Earth's dynamic skin. The critical zone extends from the top of the vegetation canopy through the soil and down to fresh bedrock and the bottom of the groundwater. Only recently recognized as a distinct zone, it is challenging to study because it is hard to observe directly, and varies widely across biogeoclimatic regions. Yet new ideas, instruments, and observations are revealing surprising and sometimes paradoxical insights, underscoring the value of field campaigns and long‐term observatories. These insights bear directly on some of the most pressing societal problems today: maintaining healthy forests, sustaining streamflow during droughts, and restoring productive terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The critical zone is critical because it supports all terrestrial life; it is the nexus where water and carbon is cycled, vegetation (hence food) grows, soil develops, landscapes evolve, and we live. No other frontier is so close to home.
Grant, G., and Dietrich, W.E. (2017): The Frontier Beneath our Feet. Water Resources Research 54 (4): 2605-2609. DOI: 10.1002/2017WR020835